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Meet the Employees of Tomorrow

September 4, 2018 News, Talent Pipeline

Connecting college students with careers in Polk is an important goal for the Central Florida Development Council and Polk Vision — and the main reason behind an upcoming career fair.

“All of our schools are very different and we attract different employers, so I think having a countywide fair is the perfect way to expose our students to opportunities they may not have had by only attending the career fairs hosted by their institution,” said Devyn Montalvo, director of Career Services & Community Outreach at Webber International University who has been spearheading the Countywide College Career Fair.

“Similarly, for employers, they’ll be able to interact with students they may not have thought to consider before,” she said.

The joint CFDC and Polk Vision’s Talent Pipeline Team will sponsor the fair, which will be held Sept. 28 at the Lakeland campus of Polk State College.

Click here to register.

Montalvo said her goal is to “continue cultivating a strong partnership between Polk County’s colleges and universities.”

That collaboration will benefit students and employers in Polk County and Central Florida. “I think it’s an important event because it highlights what a special county we live in,” Montalvo said. “Polk County has a lot of colleges and universities all in fairly close proximity to one another, and every single school has been willing to work together for the betterment of all of our students. I think that makes this a very unique and impactful event.”

The colleges that will be participating are: Polk State College, Florida Polytechnic University, Florida Southern College, Southeastern University, Warner University, Webber International University, Keiser University and St. Leo University. Traviss and Ridge Technical Colleges have also been included.

Recognizing Polk County employers are interested in connecting with students from all of our local institutions in a more uniform manner, the CFDC recently implemented a grant opportunity for those institutions transitioning to a new career center software called Handshake. Grants thus far have been awarded to Florida Poly, FSC, Polk State College and St. Leo to assist in their transition to the Handshake platform. The CFDC will provide grants to other colleges in Polk if they sign agreements to transition to Handshake before Sept. 1.

“A uniform approach was needed,” said Lindsay Zimmerman, director of engagement for the CFDC.

Sean Malott, president and CEO of the CFDC, said it’s exciting to see all of Polk County’s colleges and universities working on a collaborative effort. “Polk County is a college community with multiple world-class institutions of higher learning,” Malott said. “We believe this will provide a venue for ongoing collaboration to help employers find talent locally.”

Naomi Boyer, chair of the CFDC’s Education and Talent Committee and a vice president at Polk State College, talked in-depth about the upcoming fair.

CFDC: What’s the goal of the Countywide College Career Fair?

BOYER: It is an opportunity for employers and students seeking internships and jobs to connect. A subcommittee of the Polk Vision Talent Pipeline Team has been working to facilitate three collaborative projects to further bridge learning-to-earning and positively impact economic development:

  • The transition to Handshake (described below).
  • A countywide career fair.
  • A toolkit for businesses with common descriptions regarding internships and other work experiences to help industry navigate the complexities of higher education career experience placement.

The primary purpose is to provide an enhanced opportunity for Polk County businesses to attend one event and gain access to a larger pool of potential employees, streamlining the current individual institutional process. Although there are other career fair efforts, independently the pool of students in each professional area is not large enough to fill the required pipeline. This event is an attempt to create a shared “flow” of students and develop an innovative way to engage industry members in interaction with their future talent. The plan is to make this something beyond your typical career fair. This is the first and we will learn from it, but the group has plans to grow, expand, and further highlight our local business community.

CFDC: Why are internships important?

BOYER: From the business perspective, by hiring interns, potential employers have the opportunity to assess the talent, expertise and skills of an individual within the culture of their individual organization, while also furthering projects and job tasks. I should emphasize here that most internships need to engage the student in real work outcomes and deliverables rather than menial tasks. It is just as important the employer gain positive work outcomes as it is for the student.

From the student perspective, having an internship provides a real work opportunity that better prepares them for full-time employment in a field of their choice. It provides work experience that can enhance their attractiveness as they seek work, confirm their impressions of the career they are entering, and expand the student interview/resume.

From the county perspective, if students connect to a local business and are offered a position after an internship, there is a greater likelihood they will remain in Polk County. Without the connection to Polk County and an understanding of the local business opportunities, students may seek work elsewhere.

Economic vitality and the talent pipeline are closely tied to quality educational opportunities, and internships are a vehicle toward maintaining the linkages between credentials and employment.

CFDC: Is trying to keep our best and brightest in Polk County part of the goal? Are you finding that internships help in that regard?

BOYER: There is much by way of substantiating research that says internships and other experiential learning opportunities can stimulate the best and brightest to remain local. However, we are in the formative stages and I cannot substantiate (yet) that these efforts have had a recent impact. After this year, we should have a better sense of the results.

CFDC: How will staffing agencies like Spherion, Labor Solutions and Rita Staffing benefit from such career fairs?

BOYER: The staffing agencies, like areas businesses, are trying to fill their talent pool to feed into work placements. While they may not place interns (they may hire some), the Countywide College Career Fair is targeted at both employment and internships, so the staffing agencies can connect through multiple avenues.

CFDC: Tell me about the Handshake software and how that’s being used as part of this process.

BOYER: Handshake is a technology platform focused on connecting students with work experiences, including internships. This type of technology is not new. There are a number of brands on the market, many of which our local schools have utilized. What makes Handshake different is the fact that it is employer focused rather than higher-education centric. In the traditional systems, every business had to establish an individual account and input information for each individual college or university. What Handshake makes possible is that employers have to create only one system account and then connect to a potential worker pool (interns and employees) at all institutions that are selected in the Handshake system. Essentially, if a local employer wanted to access students from Polk County’s higher-education institutions, they would merely select from the list. There is a robust list of colleges and universities that currently use the system ( Handshake will be used to coordinate the Countywide College Career Fair event.

About the Career Fair

Employers who are interested in participating can contact Montalvo by email ( or phone (863-638-2964) or click the link here to register. Employers will need to set up a free account with Handshake (provided courtesy of Florida Southern College) to register. There is a $50 fee to register ($35 for public service entities and not-for-profits), with priority given to employers hiring in Polk County. Other employers will be able to attend if space permits. Registration deadline is Sept. 21.

Click here to register.

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